Story by MC3 Kevin Murphy
Photo by MC3 Benjamin Crossley

Sailors go to the dentist when they have a toothache, they go to sick call when they have a fever, but where do they go when irritated, depressed or anxious?

Stennis’ Psychologist Cmdr. Mark Heim and his Psychiatric Technician Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Aida Santell are on call 24 hours a day to help Sailors deal with mental health and personal issues.

“Over the last decade, there has been an increase in emphasis of mental health to make sure Sailor’s heads are taken care of,” said Heim. “Mental health service focuses on Sailors in crisis, short-term counseling, and assisting Sailors who need help.”

Santell explained how various incidents in life, like financial struggles, or adjusting to longer working hours, may affect a Sailor without them realizing it, and if problems are not addressed properly they can grow into serious issues.

“It’s good for Sailors to be proactive, to take care of their problems before their personal life affects their professional life,” said Santell. “Early detection, self awareness and then seeking help are essential in preventing a Sailor from overreacting to everyday stressors.”

Sailors walk in to medical, fill out a questionnaire and are evaluated by Santell if they are experiencing an issue that they can’t cope with. Santell will then refer them to Heim for one-on-one sessions, or to other services which will best fit their needs.

“We assess patients by conducting screenings,” said Heim. “We take walk-ins and are willing to help any Sailor who faces an immediate crisis as well. We also help them find a solution to problems they face. The chaplains aboard the ship are a huge help too and a valuable resource for Sailors.”

The most common issues Heim and Santell help Sailors deal with are sleep deprivation, home sickness, anxiety, depression and anger.

Heim said that these are typical problems for Sailors and if someone is suffering, it is nothing to be embarrassed about.

In order to provide an environment of peer-to-peer support, the Medical department has organized anger management classes and formed a de-stress focus group for Sailors to have the opportunity to cope with the stress of being underway for a long period of time.

“It’s a good place to establish positive relationships,” said Santell. “Sailors can come seek help, blow off steam and learn to deal with issues in a positive manner. I always like to tell Sailors it’s OK to have a bad day.”

A Sailor’s mental health is equally important as their physical health when it comes to accomplishing Stennis’ mission while on deployment, although Santell and Heim are just two people, the service they provide affects thousands of Sailors.